An employee of BIO-PHARMA who sent a female co-worker a « Family Guy » message on Facebook containing inappropriate language of the nature of possible sexual innuendos received €40,380 for his unfair dismissal.
It came on the heels of Labor Relations Commission (WRC) arbitrator Peter O’Brien’s finding that the main Irish arm of US firm Regeneron unfairly fired Robert Libra for gross misconduct on March 20, 2019.
Regeneron has its manufacturing base in Ireland at Dell’s former site in Limerick, and Libera served as the manufacturing support leader with the company.
Regeneron Ireland DAC has fired Libera after a 22-year-old woman employed by a third-party supplier at the site filed a complaint regarding a Facebook messaging exchange between the two on January 18, 2019.
In her initial complaint, the woman said that after Libera gave her fruit juice, he hinted that it might contain biological fluid or otherwise, and sent her a message that « part of it » was « inside her » and « if she feels like it’s part of it » in her. .
In his findings, O’Brien determined that the text message may have been intended to be humorous but could be viewed as isolating « as inappropriate, offensive, and containing potential sexual innuendos ».
Whatever Libera intended, O’Brien stated, « the message was dangerously judicious and contained inappropriate language of the nature of potentially sexual innuendos ».
O’Brien says Libra’s case is « very weak on the merits » but succeeds primarily on procedural grounds. When presenting the award, O’Brien weighed Libra’s contribution to his loss at 40%.
“Sending a letter like he did to a female co-worker, no matter how frivolous or funny the complainant (Mr. Libra) considered it, was inappropriate and poor judgment and led to disastrous consequences for Mr. Libra,” O’Brien said.
The woman lodged a complaint about the letter and met with Regeneron investigators where she initially described the exchange to Regeneron investigators as « it had a huge impact on her that weekend and it was the worst weekend of her life. »
The woman initially stated that she was terrified and felt physically ill as a result of the exchange with Libera.
However, Libera told WRC that he attached the script to a clip from the American cartoon Family Guy which roughly states what Libera mentioned in the text exchange.
No bad intentions
Documents submitted to Libera show that the woman did not watch the Family Guy clip prior to filing her complaint while each of the three Regeneron decision makers who rejected Libera asserted that they had not seen the YouTube clip.
Libera’s legal representatives say the Family Guy clip « proves there was no ill intent in the communications and was intended as a joke ».
Libra described himself as a « big fan of Family Guy, » and I expected the woman to know the context of his comments because they were well-known and common phrases in Family Guy.
Two days later, on January 20, 2019, the woman emailed Regeneron to say she was withdrawing her complaint and that she now had a different view of the messages.
O’Brien stated that nearly all of the woman’s comments in the January 20 email were in favor of Libera and that the woman did not want the investigation to continue.
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However, O’Brien said that the email was never made available to Libera during the investigation of the initial complaint nor was it made available to Regeneron’s decision makers who decided that Libera should be dismissed.
“It is important to note that had this email been available to Mr. Libra or the decision makers in this case, the outcome could have been very different from the dismissal,” O’Brien said.
O’Brien said it’s really questionable whether any investigation at all should have started on the allegation based on the annotations by the woman who made the initial complaint.
He stated that the failure to send the January 20 email to Libera was a grave omission of natural justice which put him at a very disadvantage in defending his position.
O’Brien stated that it was a very serious flaw in the Regeneron case in that the woman who received the text had significantly modified her views on the case and did not wish to proceed with the investigation.
The January 20 email was only made available to Libra’s attorney, Keating Connolly Sealers Solicitors, after they filed a GDPR data request after he was fired.
Legal representatives stated that Libera’s actions, with his good past record, should have resulted in a much lower sentence than dismissal.
They reported that Libera’s career was derailed and he struggled financially, as well as long-term damage to his career prospects.
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